The United States has described the latest meeting of Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s presidents as “positive,” saying that they both seem ready to de-escalate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and seek its peaceful resolution.
“Both presidents committed themselves to respect the ceasefire, to put in place important confidence-building measures, and to begin negotiations next month that can lead to a comprehensive settlement,” John Kirby, the U.S. State Department spokesman said late on Tuesday.
“They demonstrated what we believe to be political will to move beyond the status quo and to take steps that can benefit all the people in the region,” Kirby told a daily briefing in Washington, commenting on the Armenian-Azerbaijani summit held in Vienna on Monday.
“So it was a positive meeting and a step in the right direction. And now everybody has to do the hard work of implementing the things that they committed to,” he added.
Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev met in the Austrian capital in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs Harlem Desir. The talks were primarily aimed at defusing tensions along the Karabakh “line of contact” which saw last month the heaviest fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in over two decades.
A joint statement by Kerry, Lavrov and Desir said the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders pledged to strengthen the shaky ceasefire regime, including through independent investigations of its further violations that will be conducted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“The Presidents also agreed to the expansion of the existing Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson in Office,” it said. The representative, Andrzej Kasprzyk, has monitored the ceasefire in the Karabakh conflict zone along with a limited number of other OSCE officials for the past two decades.
Aliyev’s chief foreign policy aide, Novruz Mammadov, indicated on Wednesday Baku’s continuing opposition to the idea of deploying more OSCE observers on the frontlines. “There can be no significant changes in the mandate of Andrdzej Kasprzyk,” the Trend news agency quoted him as saying. “What was written [in the statement by Kerry, Lavrov and Desir] is the position of the Minsk Group. We assumed no commitments on that.”
Mammadov said at the same that Aliyev agreed to other safeguards against truce violations discussed at Vienna. But he did not specify whether Azerbaijan indeed supports the introduction of a mechanism for OSCE investigations of armed incidents. Baku has opposed it until now.
Sarkisian said after the Vienna talks that such a mechanism should be finalized before his next face-to-face meeting with Aliyev which the mediators hope will take place next month.
The U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Richard Mills, said on Wednesday that the U.S., Russian and French mediators will continue working with the conflicting parties to ensure that the June summit is as “positive” as the meeting in Vienna. Washington hopes that the next Aliyev-Sarkisian encounter will also facilitate a “comprehensive settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue,” Mills told reporters.